Who amongst us has not had the urge, during a long hot summer, to plunge into the cool waters of a shimmering pool? Gloriously, our garden designer, Jane had the opportunity to do precisely this while visiting Ellicar Gardens, near Doncaster, with the Society of Garden Designers North West Group, on a flawless day last June. This beautiful naturalistic garden is found at the family home of Sarah Murch, a co-founder of the company Ensata which specialises in the design and build of natural pools and swimming ponds. Sarah welcomed the group with a tour of the gardens which have been designed to provide a haven for wildlife. Entering via a beautiful enclosed area offered a tantalising and unexpected glimpse of the wonderful natural swimming pool which sits at the heart of the gardens.
The pool at Ellicar epitomises the value of including a water feature in the design of a garden. As well as being a primary means of supporting biodiversity, it brings a sense of openness, calm and tranquillity, which enhances the ambiance of the space. The water reflects the light and acts as a mirror to the wonderful complementary planting around the pool, amplifying its effect.
In keeping with the informal style of the gardens there is extensive use of grasses and perennials including drifts of the cheerful daisies of Leucanthemum vulgare, pale yellow whorls of Phlomis russeliana and the fluffy heads of Astilbe. The combination of water and soft, sinuous planting adds movement and sound, while herbs such as Thyme planted into gravel exude scent as people brush past, ensuring that all the senses are excited whether one is in the pool or relaxing on the round poolside deck.
Sarah explained to the group how the natural pool was constructed. Unlike conventional swimming pools, it is chemical-free with the water purified and filtrated by aquatic plants along with a specialised water balancing system. Submerged internal walls prevent the plants from encroaching on the swimming area ensuring that while there is the feel of wild open water, there is also the reassurance of a controlled environment.
So how was the experience of swimming in such a pool? After a brief diversion to feed the household’s baby goats and then fortified by home-made tea and cakes provided by a generous host, Jane took the plunge! She described the water as feeling silky and smooth while all around there was the glistening, iridescence of damsel flies hovering at the water’s edge. White and magenta Water Lilies, normally only viewed at a dry distance, were instead at eye level providing a unique opportunity to engage closely with these beautiful plants. The health benefits of regular swimming are well documented but doing so in a natural pool certainly added a new dimension, providing an immersive experience in every sense!
All in all, the visit to Ellicar Gardens provided a fabulous opportunity to gain a first-hand understanding of the enhancing effect of a natural pool on a garden, both aesthetically and experientially.
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